Billy awoke. Correction: he regained consciousness. He came to. Where had he been last? The parking lot of Revere High School, flat on his back. He had been lying on icy, snowy pavement—head throbbing. Street lamps shone down on him, with snow flakes fluttering through the light. The hum of nearby traffic was steady.
This was different. He was not lying on pavement now but earth. Frozen also but uneven, a tree root digging into his back—head no longer throbbing. Just numb. The snow had ceased falling. There was no man made light above him, only moonlight glinting through thick tree tops. The hum of traffic was gone. There were no roads near. All he could hear was the creak of branches and the wind tossing about dead leaves.
One thing was the same. Three figures standing above him: Matt, Chad, and Jason.
“Matt…what the fuck…” Billy stammered. Matt shifted his stance, and his giant form blocked out the pieces of the moon Billy could see through the trees. Billy felt the bumps and abrasions on his head and cheeks. He pulled a dangling tooth from his mouth and tossed it into the darkness. He spat blood. “Where the hell are we?” he asked, displaying no fear.
He received no answer. His hand went to the pocket of his hoodie, feeling for the gun. Billy found only lint and snow in the pocket “Where is it?” he asked, his eye travelling to Chad. Again, no response. Billy gently touched his nose. “My nose is broken.”
“Probably,” Chad said, edgy.
Billy rose wobbily. Matt took a step back allowing more of the moon to show itself. Billy smiled. “You guys, you’re in deep. Youz know that, don’t you?” Youz. The Boston accent. Whether you were toothless or the guy who knocked out the tooth, everyone in this part of the world had the accent.
The tri-captains didn’t have much to say at the moment and looked at each other dumbly. Each boy weighed what would happen –what could happen—if they let Billy go versus the idea of murder. They had come this far, but they weren’t killers. Were they?
As the boys silently assessed the situation, Billy assessed his. He no longer had his gun. Each captain outsized him and outweighed him, and he was on unknown ground. A small pond, mostly iced over, lay behind him. The water that wasn’t frozen rippled calmly. On all other sides of him were dense woods. He was boxed in. Billy was no Einstein, but he wasn’t a dumb motherfucker either—at least he didn’t think so. “Listen…” he began in a reasonable tone.
While the players’ heads dipped in thought, Billy bolted past them into the woods. He didn’t know where he was going, but he’d caught the boys off guard. They didn’t expect him to run, and he had natural quickness. He had the moon, but he didn’t know the terrain. They were bigger and faster and had a flashlight. He tripped on a root and lost his footing. He went down, crashing face-first into jagged, frozen snow which opened up fresh cuts on his cheeks. He tried to be quiet and lie still, but they saw him.
They quickly had him surrounded again. Chad gave the flashlight to Jason, who looked away. Matt and Chad each hit Billy in the gut –probably broke a few ribs—and took him by the arms, dragging him back to the spot by the pond. They tightened their circle around him. No more escapes.
There were two strikes on Billy and his skinny ass now. He’d tried intimidation and then reason. Neither had worked. All that remained was desperation. His bloody, toothless upper lip quivered, and he scrunched up his broken nose. He spoke to Matt, who wore a troubled expression. “Matt, come on. I didn’t mean any of that shit. I was just pissed. Let me go, and we’ll forget all of this. Seriously.”
Chad and Jason looked at Matt, too. This was his play, his call. They were the tri-captains of the team, but Matt was the true leader. They’d follow him anywhere, and they’d followed him here, into the woods. All their lives, not just Billy’s, were in his hands now.
It was a bad dream, Matt thought. Had to be. Just a week ago, they had won the State Championship. No other Revere High football team had ever done that. They were heroes, conquerors returned home after laying waste to civilizations. Julius Cesar after Gaul. Sherman after Atlanta. Seal Team Six after they blew a hole in Bin Laden’s face. The mayor of Revere gave them the key to the city. The Boston Globe printed their names. An amazing senior year was still in front of them. There would be prom and parties and packing bags for college, where new glories and hot girls awaited.
And now, here he was in the woods off the Mount Hood Golf Course (in the neighboring town of Melrose), ready to snuff out Billy Cantu of all people. Matt wasn’t a murderer, he knew that. But he had a lot to protect, and if he let Billy go that could lead to something much worse. His own death. His friends. His parents and girlfriend. He could be just as guilty of murder if he allowed Billy to leave. Matt thought back to something Mr. Martinelli said once in history class. “Evil happens when good men do nothing,” Mr. M. had said. Matt was a good man, and Billy was evil. Should he allow evil to go back to the streets of Revere, his neighborhood?
“Do you really think I should believe you?” Matt asked, throwing the weight of the decision on Billy. The cheap way out.
Billy couldn’t lie his way through this. He knew what Matt knew: everything he might say now was bullshit, anything to save his hide. He dumped any pretense of humility that still existed and begged. “Please, Matt. Please! Just let me go! I’ll leave Revere. I’ll leave the State. I won’t ever come back. Please don’t kill me. I don’t want to die!!!” Tears streamed down Billy’s cheeks. He shook but not from the cold. His clothes were torn and he looked so small.
So why was Matt still fearful of Billy? The kid was small, about a buck forty in weight to Matt’s two fifty. Even Jason, the smallest of the three captains, could wipe his ass with Billy. But it wasn’t Billy they had to consider, it was his father: Carmine Cantu. If they messed with Billy, Matt knew more than the others, they risked messing with Carmine. Billy had counted on that to get him out of this, but it hadn’t worked. Begging for his life was all he had left.
Billy’s pleas got to Matt. He began to question whether offing this prick was necessary. Maybe Billy would forget what happened in the parking lot at Revere High and at Dunkin Donuts before that. Maybe the kid would leave the city. Billy didn’t work for his father directly, and as far as Matt knew Carmine saw his son as a great big fucking disappointment. Why would Carmine want or need to get involved with Billy and some stupid dispute? Carmine was the chess player, and he hadn’t gotten the reputation he had by interceding in his no-account son’s squabbles.
But then there was the other side of this dented and faded, bottom-of-the-pocket coin. Releasing Billy left open the possibility, of, well, anything. He could seek revenge. He could get his father involved. How many movies had Matt seen where the guy who was let go came back:dead men tell no tales. Of course, the dead men’s killers were often caught and spent the rest of the lives in jail.
Billy could see Matt wrestling with all the what ifs. The tears stopped and froze on his cheeks. His breathing became more regular. His stomach unclenched. His head still throbbed and his ribs ached, but there was hope. Before the night was over, he’d be back in his shitty apartment. A shitty place to live, but he’d be alive and living in the fucker. Maybe he’d even get some pussy to celebrate. Then he’d get them all back when the time was right.
Matt reached a hand out toward Chad. “Give me the gloves,” he told his friend and co-captain.
“What do you need gloves for?” Billy asked Matt.
END OF PROLOGUE